Thursday, January 12, 2012

In short: Django the Bastard (1969)

Original title: Django Il Bastardo

aka Django the Avenger

aka The Stranger's Gundown

A rather creepy gunman with very limited facial expressions - for the movie's first hour, I count one and a half - named, like these gunmen usual are, Django (Anthony Steffen), rides through the West delivering crosses containing the given day as their date of death to various men before he shoots them. Of course, Django is out for vengeance for something that will be explained in a (slightly comical) flashback later on.

The avenger's job is nearly done, too. After getting rid of two of his victims in short order, there's just Rod Murdock (Paolo Gozlino) left, but Murdock is a more worthy opponent than the others. Once he realizes someone is after him (Django ain't one for subtlety), Murdock decides the protection of his mad brother (Luciano Rossi in a role that has a decided whiff of Kinski) and a few men isn't enough, hires a lot more thugs and holes up with them in a town he empties of other inhabitants.

Now having to use various techniques I usually connect with the goddamn Batman, Django goes to work on them.

I always seem to be of two minds about the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Garrone. On one hand, they are all highly derivative, with hardly any plot point that don't come up regularly in other Spaghetti Westerns, and with characters completely following the expected types, on the other hand, they are also usually highly entertaining and accomplished films.

Django the Bastard may even be Garrone's best Western - it is at least the best I've seen to date - mainly because this time around, there are actually a few elements to the film that aren't quite as often explored in other Spaghettis.

The main point of interest in this regard is the way the film treats its avenging anti-hero. That a Spaghetti Western's protagonist has near superhuman abilities with the gun and incredible tenacity isn't anything new, of course, but for about the first hour, Garrone's and Anthony Steffen's script builds him up as a nearly supernatural threat, putting a bit more of the creepy in their West than is the rule. In fact, the script uses this aspect so intensely that it came as a bit of a disappointment to me when Django turned out to be only a very messed-up and angry man who consciously tries to seem more than merely human, making the comparison to Batman more than just a throw-away joke of yours truly.

Another peculiar pop-cultural resonance of Garrone's film is Django's cruelty, and the strangely ritual elements of some of his killings, that - especially early in the movie - give the impression that he's not just traumatized and angry, but an actual serial killer preying on pretty atypical victims. If you squint, you could even argue that this makes Django the Bastard some sort of proto slasher movie, but then you can say that about nearly all movies with vengeance-driven plots if you broaden your definition of makes a movie a "proto-slasher" enough.

Apart from these aspects, Django the Bastard is very typical of this phase of the Spaghetti Western: a minimal (or minimalist, if you prefer) plot with archetypal characters is executed with true visual panache; actors with very limited range work excellently within their limits (in Steffen's case, this is clearly one of his best performances); rich people are bastards; fun is had by all.


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